University tenure is a form of long-term employment that university faculty may achieve under which they cannot be fired without just cause. The purpose of tenure was originally to ensure academic freedom by making certain that university professors could not be dismissed based on the content of their classes or their research topics. It was also intended to keep the grading process honest by allowing professors to issue grades they considered appropriate without fearing for their jobs.
The process of attaining university tenure typically takes at least five years, and more often seven, to complete. A professor's tenure packet—a collection of materials supporting his application for tenure—may be considered first by his peers, then by senior faculty, and then by university administrators. If tenure is approved at each stage, the professor will be awarded tenure, and will typically be promoted from a junior title such as assistant professor to a more senior one such as associate professor. Faculty who are denied tenure are usually considered to be dismissed, but the process is generally scheduled to be completed with about a year left on the initial contract to allow time to look for a new job if tenure is denied.
Faculty who pursue university tenure must typically perform well in three areas: Research, teaching, and service. For the research component, a professor must do significant research in his field and publish a number of articles in peer-reviewed scholarly journals. The phrase “publish or perish” refers to the idea that faculty who do not publish are unlikely to earn university tenure.
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The teaching component generally requires a minimum number of hours spent teaching and advising students. Other kinds of instruction, such as facilitating distance-learning classes or online classes, might be considered as well. Service is typically accomplished by participating in university and departmental committees, serving on search committees and task forces, and providing outreach to the local community or the scholarly community at large.
In some countries' university systems, university tenure has disappeared completely. In the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, tenure is not as common as it once was. Many universities wish to reserve the right to fire faculty who are not consistently performing well. Cash-strapped institutions may be reluctant to add new tenure-track positions when they cannot guarantee that they will have the budget necessary to support their current faculty. Tenure isn't necessarily the perk for new faculty that it used to be, as untenured positions often provide more opportunities for the kind of work–life balance that many people desire now.